Casting about for a worthwhile blog topic, I clicked around online, reading many great pieces of solitary thought, and stories about historical and inspiring characters, and many other things…but I knew I was procrastinating. I had no inspiration of my own, yet I had the itch.
I decided to write about character development. When humming along in a story, I do not construct characters. They appear from the mists fully developed and with their own opinions and dialects. My job is to “record what they say and do” which helps my story along in ways I never could have anticipated!
Gunny is one character who came into life in just that way. Here is an excerpt:
“Name’s Gunny. What’s yours?”
“William O. Barrett, sir, please to make your acquaintance,” Billy responded automatically, still staring at the food and ignoring the man’s outstretched hand.
Gunny turned his back on the boy and turned toward the fire, pouring a cup of coffee into an enamel cup.
“Here you go.” he said, rising and turning, holding the cup out to Billy. Billy took it without saying anything, and took a careful sip, testing the heat of the black liquid before taking a mouthful. The aroma filled him as much as the liquid itself.
He blew across the top of it before taking another sip. He leaned against a large granite boulder.
Gunny stared hard at him while he drank. The old man’s powers of observation surpassed even his own awareness of them. They had built up naturally over time. His curiosity had a patient quality about it, a self contained and non interfering quality. In the same way that Billy had assessed the red mare, Gunny now assessed his visitor, sensing more than knowing that something was amiss. He checked the fish, and turned it over in the pan, saying nothing.
Billy’s voice cut into the atmosphere, saying,
“What happened to the mare?”
This truly surprised Gunny. His preliminary assessment of the kid did not include the power of observation as a probable skill. Gunny did not respond. It wasn’t out of rudeness, but was simply due to the fact that he did not know for sure what was wrong.
In the world of horsemen silence is preferred to openly stated ignorance. The ultimate way to display ignorance is to pretend you know more than you do.
Gunny is a favorite character of mine, even though Billy is the real protagonist in my novel. I believe I may write another where Gunny plays a featured role. He is an amazingly generous person who helps to save Billy’s life and later dies at Billy’s hands when the situation is reversed. I would love to develop a novel about Gunny’s life and times.
I like to use dialogue for character development, allowing each character to speak for himself. Gunny is a man of very few words, but even his reticence relays much about his character.
It was somewhat frustrating to me as a writer to record Gunny’s contribution to the story. I had to allow him time to show me, through his body language what kind of person he was. I had to see deeply into him, and respond to the very few words he spoke to Billy.
I had no idea who he was when I first encountered him. But as he revealed himself to me, I would laugh at his jokes, marvel at his kindness, and grieve for his losses. I cannot fully understand how he “came to be” but to me, he is a very real human being.